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African American Humor

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from the Nilsens

Published in: Entertainment & Humor
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African American Humor

  1. 1. 1 African-American Humor by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen
  2. 2. WARNING ABOUT AFRICAN-AMERICAN HUMOR, TABOOS, AND CENSORSHIP In selecting examples of African-American humor we have tried to be edgy, but not offensive, but consider the following: CENSORSHIP FROM THE RIGHT: Blasphemy, Obscenity, Profanity, Swear Words, Vulgarity, Mention of Body Parts, and Body Functions CENSORSHIP FROM THE LEFT (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS): Age, Disabilities, Gender, Ethnicity, Belief System, and all other marginalizations. Ethnic humor tends to be in the vernacular. It is colloquial, and ungrammatical and unpretentious, but it is also often “vulgar” because it is in the language of the common people (compare “Vulgar Latin”). We’ve tried not to use offensive examples, and we hope we have succeeded, but remember that what is not offensive to one person might be very offensive to another person. We apologize in advance if any of our examples are offensive. 2
  3. 3. Use Vs. Mention An Important Linguistic Concept Because most ethnic humor is colloquial or vernacular humor, it contains many vulgarities and obscenities. These vulgarities and obscenities become part of the “rhythm” of the delivery. Therefore many ethnic comedians have difficulty being funny without these vulgarities and obscenities. Furthermore, they provide some of the edginess to the humor. In studying ethnic humor, a linguist sometimes needs to mention or cite these obscenities and vulgarities in order to discuss the humor. But in doing so, the linguist is not using the obscenities and vulgarities. Thus there is a distinction between use and mention. 3
  4. 4. 4
  5. 5. The World-Wide Influence of African American Humor • Humor scholars have always acknowledged the contributions and effects of Jewish humor on the subjects and the roles of American humor. • It is appropriate to also acknowledge the contributions of African Americans to the overall humor of the United States—and to the world—especially if we consider the elements of playfulness and humor in hip-hop. • Within living memory, the “place” of AA humor has undergone more change than any other genre. Today, the mainstream laughs with Blacks, while a couple of generations ago, the custom was to laugh at blacks. 5
  6. 6. Until well after WW II . . . • Traveling minstrel shows were one of the few theater events available in rural areas. • In small town America, amateur actors loved to put on black-face and costumes and perform their own minstrel shows. • Popular children’s books included the 1889 Story of Little Black Sambo by British author Helen Bannerman and the 1907 Epaminondas and His Auntie by Sara Cone Bryant. • It was the exaggerated drawings, as much as the stories, that offended African Americans and made black children feel embarrassed or ashamed when teachers read the books to mixed school groups. 6
  7. 7. 7 Features of AA Humor That Can be Traced to West Africa • Extensive Word Play • An Abundance of Street Language • Punning • Signifying • Verbal Put-Downs • Mocking of Enemy’s Relatives • Chanting of Ridicule Verses • Using the Whole Body (including bent-knees) for dancing and communicating feelings • Admiring Trickster Figures • Verbal Quickness and Wit
  8. 8. CREATIVE SPELLINGS New Spellings of Disk Jockey •Deejay Djing Djin DJ’n Names of Groups or Individuals •DJ Kool Herc DJ AJ •Blue Jays DJ Clark Kent •DJ Craze DJ Evil Dee •DJ Kay Gee DJ Jazzy Jay •DJ Timmy Juicy J Tim New Spellings of Master of Ceremonies •MC Emcee •Mcing MC’n •Emceein •Femcee (for a woman) Run DMC was named to honor the speed with which he ran between turntables. 8
  9. 9. African-American Names Can you give examples? • Names that build on the idea of Cool. • Names that include Rock or Roc. • Names spelled “phonetically.” • Names spelled in all caps. • Numbers included in names. • Names that are clipped. • The doubling of letters. 9
  10. 10. Things to Consider Relating to African-American Humor • Can you see connections between hip hop spelling and the more recent text messaging? • How about the creative names that parents are now giving their infants? • In what ways can unusual spelling be a statement of independence and/or ethnic pride? • Is there a generational difference in the appreciation of ethnic-related humor? Why might this be? • Do you always expect African American comics to make jokes about racial differences as opposed to other subjects? Can you give some examples? 10
  11. 11. Amos ’n Andy • During the 1930s the Amos and Andy radio show starred white actors doing blackface comedy. It was the most popular of all radio shows. • When the show moved to TV in 1951, African Americans were hired as performers. 11
  12. 12. 12 • In the 1950s as everyone became more aware of racism, leading up to the desegregation of schools, Amos and Andy became so controversial that the producers put together a politically correct version. It lost its zing, and was cancelled. • By today’s standards, the show was both racist and stereotyped. • However, Joe Franklin said that the Blacks on the show may have “prepared the ground for the acceptance of real blacks in the American cultural mainstream.”
  13. 13. Two Comedy Pioneers Pigmeat Markham 1904-81 •Markham was a blackface performer and when audiences and critics demanded that burnt-cork performances end, they were astonished to find that he was actually darker than the makeup he had used. •In his most famous skit, he played the world’s funkiest judge. The audience would say, “Here come da Judge,” a line later used by both Flip Wilson and Sammy Davis Jr. Moms Mabley 1897-1975 •Mabley would come on stage in oversized clodhoppers, a raggedy dress, and an oddball hat. She played the role of a ribald grandmother. •She was nearly 70 when she first played for a white audience at the Playboy Club in Chicago. •She later made guest appearances with Bill Cosby, Flip Wilson, and the Smothers Brothers. 13
  14. 14. Hip Hop As a Kind of Humor • Hip Hop grew out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and ‘70s. • It rejects the status quo and emphasizes the individual. • Besides music and rap, it includes break dancing, tagging, graph writing, and entrepreneurship. • It is not restricted to African Americans, and is in fact, now global. • A major feature is the language play, especially in spelling and naming. 14
  15. 15. Hip-Hop Humor Funny Hip-Hop Dance Battle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0klhNVqOkKU 15
  16. 16. Tricksters are also important in African-American Culture 16 Gretchen Martin at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise has a recent book about African-American tricksters. The book was published by the University Press of Mississippi in December of 2015.
  17. 17. The Range of African- American Humor Some of the best humor in today’s American culture comes to us from African- Americans. The following slides will give you a sense of the range of this amazing contribution. 17
  18. 18. Wayne Brady Wayne Brady: “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+wayne+brady+comedy&&view 18
  19. 19. Louis C. K.’s Take on African-American Humor 19
  20. 20. Cedric the Entertainer Cedric the Entertainer: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+cedric+the+entertainer&view= 20
  21. 21. Dave Chapelle Dave Chapelle: httphttp://www.comedycentral.com/shows/chappelles_show/index.jhtml://www.comedycentral.com/shows/chappelles_show/index.jhtml 21
  22. 22. Redd Foxx: Another Pioneer • In a precursor to the creative spelling in Hip Hop, Foxx chose to spell his name with two d’s and two x’s because he didn’t want to be either a color or an animal. • A recent quote: “Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.” 22
  23. 23. Redd Foxx Redd Fox and Flip Wilson: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+redd+foxx&&view=detail&mid 23
  24. 24. Henry Lewis Gates 24
  25. 25. Donald Glover Donald Glover: “Home Depot”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+donald+glover&view=detail&m 25
  26. 26. Whoopi Goldberg: The First Black Female Superstar • In the 1990s, Whoopi Goldberg’s talent for ad lib and for making a stage sparkle with power was show- cased in her role as host of the Academy Awards. • She was born Caryn Johnson and raised in a public housing project in Manhattan by a single mother. • She made her performing debut at age eight with the Helena Rubinstein Children’s Theatre at the Hudson Guild. 26
  27. 27. Whoopy Goldberg Whoopy Goldberg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X3C1-9at9sA 27
  28. 28. Dick Gregory: A Sample Quote “America is the only country in the world where a man can grow up in a ghetto, go to really bad schools, be forced to ride in the back of the bus, and then get paid $5,000 a week to tell people about it.” 28
  29. 29. Dick Gregory Dick Gregory: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JAcN5iKArQU 29
  30. 30. David Alan Grier David Alan Grier: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+david+allen+grier&view=detai 30
  31. 31. Terry Gross’s Take on African-American Humor 31
  32. 32. Bambi Haggins Bambi Haggins is an Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at Arizona State University. She was a writer for Why We Laugh: Funny Women, and a historical consultant for HBO’s Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley. She is currently researching the field of “Black Comedy in the Age of Obama.” 32
  33. 33. Bambi Haggins 33
  34. 34. Arsinio Hall Arsinio Hall, Michael Jackson and Eddie Murphy: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+arsenio+hall&view=detail&mid 34
  35. 35. Kevin Hart Kevin Hart: “Seriously Funny”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+kevin+hart&view=detail&mid= 35
  36. 36. Steve Harvey Steve Harvey: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+steve+harvey+videos&view=d 36
  37. 37. D. L. Hughley D. L. Hughley: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=D.L.+Hughley+Comedy+Show&&view= 37
  38. 38. 38 Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele KEY & PEELE: “Obama’s Anger Translation”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qv7k2_lc0M
  39. 39. Martin Lawrence Martin Lawrence: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Martin+Lawrence+Comedy+Specials&& 39
  40. 40. Moms Mabley Moms Mabley: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+moms+mabley&view=detail&m 40
  41. 41. Bernie Mac Bernie Mac: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+bernie+mac&view=detail&mid 41
  42. 42. Pigmeat Markham Pigmeat Markham: “Here Come de judge.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuHKlb2IcWE 42
  43. 43. Mo’Nique Mo’Nique: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+monique&view=detail&mid=C 43
  44. 44. Paul Mooney Paul Mooney: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+paul+mooney+stand+up&&vie 44
  45. 45. Tracy Morgan Tracy Morgan: “30 Rock” on “The View”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=tracy+morgan+30+rock+youtube&view= 45
  46. 46. Eddie Murphy Eddie Murphy: “Saturday Night Live” “Buckwheat”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+eddie+murphy&&view=detail& 46
  47. 47. Trevor Noah Trevor Noah and “The Daily Show”: http://www.cc.com/shows/the-daily-show-with-trevor-noah 47
  48. 48. Conan O’Brien’s Take on African-American Humor 48
  49. 49. Tyler Perry Tyler Perry: “Madea”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+tyler+perry&view=detail&mid= 49
  50. 50. Richard Pryor Richard Pryor: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Richard+Pryor+Steve+Martin&&view=d 50
  51. 51. Chris Rock: A Sample Quote “Barack, man. He doesn’t let his blackness sneak up on you. Like if his name was Bob Jones or something like that, it might take you two or three weeks to figure out he’s black. But when you hear ‘Barack Obama,’ you picture a brother with a spear, just standing over a dead lion. You picture the base player from the Commodores.” 51
  52. 52. Chris Rock Chris Rock: “Saturday Night Live” Monologue: https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=youtube+chris+rock&view=detail&mid= 52
  53. 53. Nipsy Russell Nipsy Russell Roasts Don Rickles: https://www.bing.com/videos/search? q=youtube+nipsy+russell&view=detail&mid=91661380106DAA8B1E19916 61380106DAA8B1E19&FORM=VIRE 53
  54. 54. African-American Stereotype in Sports 54
  55. 55. Wanda Sykes Wanda Sykes and Ellen DeGeneres: https://www.bing.com/videos/search? q=youtube+wanda+sykes&view=detail&mid=7364D0965785F7A8ECBB736 4D0965785F7A8ECBB&FORM=VIRE 55
  56. 56. 56
  57. 57. Jimmy Walker • When was the last time you seen a Black embezzler—or a Black man getting busted for juggling the bankbooks? I mean, what’s the use of having a Black brother on the Supreme Court if none of us can commit a crime classy enough to get it tried there? • Jimmy Walker: “Dy-no-mite!!!”: • https://www.bing.com/videos/search? q=youtube+jimmy+walker&view=detail&mid=C0A4205897 A8DAA0A223C0A4205897A8DAA0A223&FORM=VIRE 57
  58. 58. Jimmy Walker 58
  59. 59. Mel Watkins’ Take on African-American Humor 59
  60. 60. Damon Wayans Damon Wayans: https://www.bing.com/videos/search? q=youtube+damon+wayans+snl&view=detail&mid=957901099ACDCB0FC 57C957901099ACDCB0FC57C&FORM=VIRE 60
  61. 61. Katt Williams Katt Williams and Seth Meyers on “Saturday Night Live”: http://www.bing.com/videos/search? q=Katt+Williams+saturday+night+live&&view=detail&mid=232BF5E8E6FE A2DFA9AF232BF5E8E6FEA2DFA9AF&rvsmid=61A45AB24B538DFEB5766 1A45AB24B538DFEB576&fsscr=0&FORM=VDFSRV 61
  62. 62. Flip Wilson Flip Wilson as “Geraldine” with Tim Conway and Burt Reynolds: https://www.bing.com/videos/search? q=youtube+flip+wilson&view=detail&mid=E2795FC4B21AC74AD2AFE279 5FC4B21AC74AD2AF&FORM=VIRE 62
  63. 63. Black-ish: A 2016 Phenomenon 63
  64. 64. In Conclusion Sachmo Armstrong: “What a Wonderful World”: https://www.bing.com/videos/search? q=youtube+sachmo+armstrong+what+a+wonderful+life+hand+shadow&& view=detail&mid=23D2419B7518A55BCAE423D2419B7518A55BCAE4&FO RM=VRDGAR 64

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